A few year ago I spent some time with a Scottish visitor to the Cape who was proudly telling me about the two species of pink heather that flowered up on the mountains above his farm. It was May and we wondered up into the hills on Grootbos to see what was flowering – well we stopped, jumped out the landrover and took a few steps into a patch of mountain fynbos and saw all the Erica’s shown below……..
Erica cerinthoides (red flowers below) has the common name the fire heath. This is the best known and most widely distributed member of the Erica family in South Africa. It has a persistent rootstock allowing it to survive and resprout following fires, often flowering within a year of burning. If left unburnt it can grow up to 1.8m, but will stop flowering in the long-term absence of fire. The flowers are large, tubular, hairy and dark red. It grows on sandy flats and slopes from the Cederberg to Mpumalanga.
Erica coccinea is also a widespread and variable erica species. Both the red version shown on the right and the yellow version shown below grow on Grootbos. The red flowering on sandstone and the yellow flowering on limestone – speciation in progress! This species is pollinated primarily by sunbirds. It grows from Clanwilliam to George
Erica corifolia (right) has pink flowers and because of its all-year round flowering and wide distribution is very popular as a filler for fynbos flower bouquets. Erica corifolia is common on sandy flats and middle to upper sandstone flats from Malmesbury to De Hoop.
One of the most beautiful species flowering at the moment is Erica discolor. This is a dense, resproutingshrub with large, tubular pink to dark red flowers that have pale tips. It is bird pollinated and grows usually in drier habitats in sunny positions on coastal flats and lower mountains from Betty’s Bay to Humansdorp.
Erica plukenetii subsp. linearis (cats tail erica) is an erect, well-branched shrub with long, soft leaves giving the stems the appearance of a cats tail – hence the common name. This sub-species was up until recently categorised as its own erica species, but recent taxonomic re-classification has grouped it into the large Erica plukenetii complex.
It is popular with wild flower harvesters and grows on neutral to acidic soils between Gansbaai and Bredasdorp.
The small pink flowers of Erica nudiflora turn large tracts of hillside in the region bright pink in late summer and autumn. It is a common and widespread species in the south-western Cape and can be found growing on dry, stony slopes from the Cederberg southwards to the Cape Peninsula and eastwards to Bredasdorp.
Erica penicilliformis is commonly called the salt and pepper bush owing to the white and black flowers. The Latin name penicilliformis is derived from the likeness of its flowers to a pencil or artists brush. This is a very variable species that grows in different forms and flowers at different times of the year depending on where it occurs. It is a widespread species with a natural distribution from Clanwilliam to the Tsistikamma Mountains.
Erica pulchella is a very attractive, small shrub (pulchellus = beautiful in Latin) with its branches covered with bright purplish red flowers. The species occurs from the Cape Peninsula eastwards to Albertinia.
Erica vestita is mostly red in the Walker Bay region but as one travels inland towards Baardscheedersbos there is suddenly a transition to pink flowerered varieties. It is pollinated by sunbirds and is also visited by butterflies. It is a popular garden species that grows on both dry and moist habitats on the lower slopes of mountains between Worcester and George.
Needless to say my Scottish friend was impressed!